The Welsh coal mining community of Thomastown in the Ely Valley, Rhondda Cynon Taff

 


Thomastown came into existence in 1909, and the two streets Pembroke St and Meyler St that constitute Thomastown were built to house the miners working in the nearby colliery in Coedely.  It is there I was born - a little socialist and a little Calvanistic methodist cum Baptist - at 54 Pembroke St. in 1936,  just before the outbreak of the second world war.  My grandfather lived 5 houses away, my aunt Peggy only two houses away, and my great-uncle Will, six houses away on the other side of the street. Thomastown was therefore for me very much a family community. 

Beyond Pembroke Street in the direction of the mine was open countryside through which a path - the 'Black Path' - lead to the colliery and to the sheep  farms on the high ground  marking the southern edge of the South Wales coalfield.  In those days very few people owned cars - but there was a railway and bus service to Cardiff and - more importantly for a young boy - train service to the seaside town of Porthcawl just 20 miles away.  Beyond a certain age it was feasible to undertake the adventure of a 'street' bicycle trip to the seaside town of Barry or even walk to the swimming pool in Porth or Pontypridd. There were also cinemas in Tonyrefail, Porth, Tonypandy and Pontypridd and small boys regularly watched Roy Rogers or Gene Autry cowboy movies for 3 pence .on a Saturday morning. Later in life there were Saturday trips to the city of Cardiif as supporters of the Cardiff rugby club - plus visits to the larger cinemas, perhaps even the Theatre - especially during the Xmas Pantomime season..  The ballroom in Porth also became important as a stage in teenage development.......!  Most males were accomplished dancers in their teenage years - ballroom dancing was encouraged even at my elementary school of Cwmlai and was honed at  lunch time (when it rained...often!) dances at the Grammar school as well as at the Urdd Gobaith Cymru meetings on Thursday nights - thank you Mr Williams and Mr Evans   The ballroom - all those chairs moved to the back of the hall, Mr Williams at stage right with the 'gramaphone' and vinyl discs!,  boys seated on the left, girls on the right, and away we go -  march - foxtrot - quickstep - waltz - tango - big band - jazz - samba - latin - cha cha cha -  merengue - reggae - bomba - rumba - mambo-   boogie woogie - French - French - cajun - or for really good fun why not a scottish dance (full_MP3_A; full MP3_B ) or a polka.    Enjoy the dance!  -   in my case it proved enjoyable and worthwhile when I met the French girl on the Queen Mary crossing to New York who would eventually become my wife!!

 



My elementary school - Cwmlai school - lay across the valley opposite Pembroke St, and often my mothers voice would waft across the valley to encourage me to stop playing tennis-ball soccer in the school yard  and get home - or else!!! It was there - after a year in isolation hospital with Scarlet Fever - I landed the only thespian role in my life in the part of King Arthur - the 'sword in the anvil' was homemade although my Dad helped; it's been down hill ever since!!  On Sundays it was three  times to Bethlehem Baptist Church, but often when my father was working a Sunday shift I could miss Sunday school for the reason that I was required to walk my mother's steaming hot dinner to the colliery  for my father to enjoy the same pleasure as the rest of his family - a little procrastination helped in this regard, particularly if it involved a trip in a miner's cage into the depths of the earth!  The glory days!!

 In Thomastown  'walking' was a important pastime - firstly as adventures to the resevoir fed by Nant  Llanilid, or to the 'Dell' above the colliery, or the 'Rocks' or the 'St Peter's Churc'h ruins up on the high ground overlooking the flat farmland of the Vale of Glamorgan  or to Pantybrad the site of the capture in 1326 of King Edward II by the forces of Queen Isabella of France, or to my aunt in Pontyclun via the forest of Smaelog ;  then much longer distances with my pals Brian Lewis and Eric Hellings  over the Bwlch to as far away as Porth Talbot and then the following year to Ystradfellte in the Brecon Beacons region; then the length of the Wye Valley to Hereford; to Brittany to meet my distant French pen-friend or the Rhine Valley south to Cobourg and on to Paris in France with friends Billy Bridge and Brian Townley, and eventually to Nord Kap in Arctic Norway and Finland - all financed by annual summer employment as a painter at the Thomas & Evans 'pop' factory in Porth, as a spring maker in a mattress factory in Talbot Green, a night-shift baker in Roath Park, Cardiff, and a sailor on a Norwegian coastal freighter!  In the end I made it to New York City and eventually to Canada where I settled in London, Ontario to start my life as a 'hard rock'  professional geologist.


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A very interesting and entertaining series of sketches has been written by Brian Lewis and his wife Della describing the lives of people living in Thomastown during the first half of the 19th Century. The stories are based on the memories of Brian's  father Wyndham Lewis. For me a visit with Wyndham and his wife Sylvia  was always of enormous pleasure because as an 'expat' they would welcome me like a long lost son, and there was always a long and lively conversation over a glass of cold beer! Wonderful people!  Brian is another Thomastown 'expat' living in Calgary, Canada, now retired from the elevated position of Minister of Education for the Canadian North West Territories. Della is a well known Calgary potter and is still active in this field. Click here to download a pdf of the sketches compiled by Brian.  He has also written about the life of his father - I will try to get a link to that sometime in the future. Brian himself was capped for Wales as a schoolboy.


   Brian says: "
As a teenager I lived on Meyler Street, Thomastown.  They were wonderful years.  I immigrated to Canada in 1961 but returned to Wales many times.  When Wyndham Lewis, my father  was  in his nineties, I sat down with him on many occasions recording his anecdotes about our village, Thomastown.  We celebrated his 95 Birthday at 100 Meyler Street and presented him with an illustrated album of his beloved Thomastown.  It contained his anecdotes and illustrations by my family.  There are, no doubt, small inaccuracies due to memory lapses, but this was Wyndham’s Thomastown through his eyes."

 
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                  Click on the blue underlined text to see the photo image

             
All location data (places, people, map image overlays) at this site are recorded in the Google Earth kmz file Wales.kmz at http://instruct.uwo.ca/earth-sci/fieldlog/Google_Earth
  and can be downloaded from this site.

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                   WHERE IS THOMASTOWN AND THE ELY VALLEY?

     View of the Ely Valley from Llantrisant (Coedely Colliery "Tip" in the far distance).


MAP showing the location of the ancient pathway known as the "The Roman Road" leading from Thomastown in the Ely Valley to Brynna (Llanharan) marking the southern edge of the South Wales Coalfield. The map  also shows  the  location of the scenic  landmarks locally referred to as "The Rocks" and the "The Tip".


Goggle Earth image of local farms in the area surrounding Thomastown, and the 'Old Roman Road connecting Thomastown to Brynna and the Vale of Glamorgan.


1914 Ordinance Survey  map of Thomastown


"The Pontyclun - Coedely - Tonyrefail - Penygraig Train" - and then 'shank's pony' from Penygraig to the Empire cinema in Tonypandy.


Annotated Google Earth image of the Thomastown area showing the onetime  location of Coedely Colliery,  various farms and homes of people I knew.


The Joannes Blaeu 1645 map of the Ely Valley: - Note that the ancient Church at Llanbad is referenced as ' Peterston on y mount'.


Emanuel Bowen's 1729 map of the Ely Valley      Note that 'Tu' yn y coid' (Tynycoed) and Allt Grabben are located on this map and were therefore in existence by the eary 1700's; the location referenced as 'Gylenog'  is on the old  Llantrisant to Pontypridd road close to the Tarren Deubath pre-historic holy site (see below). (Map is referenced to a Google Earth image)


 View of Thomastown and Tonyrefail  - from the top of the Coedely Colliery  'Tip' (now demolished).


(Thomastown 'tip' diamonds :- concretionary ironstones in the Welsh Coal Measures commonly contain geoides in which have grown euhedral quartz crystals along with sprays of millerite (NiS).)


Pembroke St the day after a particularly  heavy snowfall around Xmas 1947


A Child's Xmas in Wales - at last snow and school - in order of importance! (Cwmlai Elementry School on a wintery, snowy day,


Rain Rain...............!!


                              IN THE VERY BEGINNING


Historic sites  - Google Earth image showing the location of the Coedcae Hill Fort, the Penycoedcae Roman Marching Camp, and the Castellau Celtic "Tarren Deusant" face carvings


Location of the Coedcae 'Gaer' hill fort  on the 1914 Penybont Ordinance Survey map


Google Earth location of the Coedcae and Ty_yn_y_waun (??) pre-historic Hill Forts


Coedcae Hill Fort overlay image


      Tarren Deusant  prehistoric rock carvings             Tarren Deusant carved faces          Google Earth image of the Tarren Deusant  location
 


          TARREN DEUSANT  PAGAN CULT SITE. A natural spring at the foot of a rock face on the W. side Of Nant Castellau, N. of Llantrisant, has associated carvings which suggest it was a site of pagan Celtic veneration. Its name 'Tarren Deusant', was recorded in 1696 together with a note that there were 'two persons engraved'  The rock face above a natural ledge S. of the spring features a lightly-coloured sandstone boudin of phallic appearance surrounded by a band of dark and relatively soft mudstone; the surface of this band of softer rock is almost entirely decorated with various designs incised or in relief, including at least eight stylised human faces with socketed eyes.
      The association of human heads (actual or representational) with sacred waters is a characteristic of pagan Celtic beliefs, and the primitive stylised rendering of these faces accords with the iconography of such beliefs elsewhere.a
Two heads in low relief to the left of the boulder show incised 'eye-brows' as well as the 'slit' mouth characteristic of some Celtic cult heads, a but in this case of multiple imitation there is no certain criterion for establishing which if any of those now visible are authentically of pre-Christian age.
    I     Lhuyd, Parochialia, Ill, p. 9.
   2    A. Ross, pagan Celtic Britain (London, 1967), pp. 104—13.
   a     Ibid., Pls. 50—3, 60, 63 and 94; Antiquity, XLII (1968), pp. 314—15. Ibid., Pls. 20—1, 29.
                                    Location : Latitude: 51.575756N  Longitude: 3.369397W
  

Google Earth image of the Penycoedcae Roman Marching camp


http://roman-britain.co.uk/places/penycoedcae.htm


http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/ancient-romes-military-marching-camps/

     See: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan by the RCAHMW (HMSO, Cardiff) vol.1, part ii, pp.83/4 & fig.47;
     The Roman Frontier in Wales by V.E. Nash-Williams (Cardiff, 1969) p.124;
     Britons in the Roman Army by Dr. Grace Simpson (London, 1964);
     Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1958-1960 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. li (1961) p.126;
     Annales by Cornelius Tacitus, translated by J.Jackson (Loeb, Harvard, 1937);
     Military Aspects of Roman Wales by Prof. F. Haverfield (London 1910) pp.97-100.


      The view towards Llantrisant viewed from the west slope of the Glyn mountain The distant dot is the "Billy Wynt"  marking the high point of the southern scarp of  the South Wales coal field (north-dipping Carboniferous Pennant Sandstone limb of the Hercynian South Wales syncline) . The "Billy Wynt" is the remains of a 13th Century windmill destroyed during a battle in the Middle Ages, but still shown as the site of a windmill on Bowen's 1729 map of South Wales. The nearby Llantrisant castle, also built in the 13th Century, was held for Edward I by the Norman de Clare family.   The adjacent common land at Llantrisant, consisting of some 298 acres, was granted along with charter status to the Freemen of  Llantrisant, supposedly in recognition of the participation of Llantrisant longbowmen in the Battle of Crecy in 1346 (not something I mention too loudly in the presence of my French  wife! -  at the battle of Agincourt the French king threatened to remove the 2 string fingers of any Welsh archers who were captured.)


Google Earth image showing the location of Churches recorded on the 1729 map of Bowen  relative to the estimated  travel of the ancient mountain road 'Ffordd Y Bryniau' linking Llantrisant - and therefore by extension also Llantwit Cathedral in Cardiff - to the Cistercian Abbey at Margam and the more westerly town of Neath. (Llantrisant  to Margam would be a 22 km walk as the crow flies - one good day if you started early!! Llandaff to Llantrisant would add on another more than 12 km.) . As will be noted Bowen's map is very approximative and difficult to accurately 'rubber band' in Google Earth; Blaeu's 1645 map is commensurately even more distorted.


https://www.google.ca/search?q=margam+abbey+chronicle&oq=margAM+abbey&aqs=chrome.3.69i57j0l5.14718j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margam_Abbey

https://archive.org/stream/historyofmargama00bircuoft/historyofmargama00bircuoft_djvu.txt



Remains of the 'St Peters on the Mount'  Mountain  Church; the ancient "Ffordd Y Bryniau" ridgetop  road linking Llantrisant to Margam and Neath passes nearby      see Bowen's map


                     MINING HISTORY


Google Earth image showing old mine sites in the Ely Valley and surrounding areas


Brynwyth mine above Tynywaun Farm- Ordinance Survey map 1914


Google Earth image of the Brynwyth mine above Tynywaun Farm - remains of mining activity and the mine tramway still visible on the satellite image.


View of Thomastown in 1915, looking North from the top of the old road incised into the hillside and that led to Tynycoed House.


Same view in 1990 - railbed has now been replaced by a three-lane highway.



View across the Ely Valley incorporating "The Hill", Tylchawen Terrace, and the Cwmlai school soccer pitch (painted by my father Ernie Church).


Panoramic view of Thomastown - Pembroke St to the left, Meyler St to the right, the Ely Hotel in the centre, and the Coedely Colliery slag waste 'Tip" at the top left


Meylor Street in recent times - everyone now owns a car!!


The Thomastown commercial Centre - Elizabeth Street :-  Ely Hotel on the left; Post office and the Co-op food store on the right; and the barber and cobbler at the far end right.


1914 Ordinance Survey Map of Coed Ely Colliery


Coed Ely Colliery in the early years of development.


Coed Ely Colliery, c. 1970; view from the railway bridge in Nantmelyn (Garth Maelog 'mountain' in the background).


Miners strike of 1926 - the miners shoe repair shop   The Quakers voluntary cobblers.


Rhondda Grey - in hommage to that beloved Welshman Max Boyce (+ photos of the river Ely in full flood 1937)


Rhondda Grey sung by Max Boyce


                          

                                PEOPLE


Thomastown - people


The most important man in Thomastown - William Watkins


      Born at Warren House on the side of the Garth Mountain ('Arthur's Buttes') he started work at the age of 12 at the Bertie Pit, Lewis Merthyr pit, as a door-boy; then to Thomas and Edwards, Pontypridd as an apprentice carpenter; then to Abercwmboi to the Cwmpennar Pit ; then to the South Cambrian Pit as 'overman'. In 1912 at the age of 34 he came to Tonyrefail to work at the Tylchafach level; then finally waterman at the Coedely Coke Ovens. Such a modest working career was however only a cover for his real life as one of the 'gwerin'  - in 1914 he was a member of the management committee of the Penygraig Co-op society and was later appointed chairman of the education committee for ten years.  He was a member of the Llanharan Parish Council for 14 years and of the Cowbridge District Council for 13 years.  He was also in charge of the Lord Mayor's Distress Fund for the Tonyrefail area.  He was a member of the Cowbridge Public Assistance Committee, as well as the Llantrisant and Tonyrefail Public Assistance ; member of the South East Glamorgan Guardians; a governor of the Tonyrefail Grammar School; a member of the Mid-Glamorgan War Development Committee.  He was also a J.P. under the Cowbridge council.  He was a chairman of the Public Health and child Maternity at Cowbridge, and chairman of the Tonyrefail Horticultural Society.  He was a deacon and Sunday School superintendant at Bethania chapel for 30 years. He was the first person to drive a car in Thomastown!  William Watkins was a classic example of what were known as the Welsh 'Gewiri' - working class but educated beyond what you might imagine. On his death his legacy included amongst many other books an 1841 edition of the "life and Times of Louis Phillipe, and the 1888-89 volume of the North American Harpers Magazine.


Second most important person - perhaps the first - in Thomastown  - Gladys the baker - bread, milk, and mail were all delivered by horse and cart in those days -


       There was a competition every morning for the horse manure! While the war was on every little bit helped in the allotment vegetable garden.   As one of the best known people in the district Gladys would be happy to know that 80 years on her fame is now wafting around on the waves of the internet  - even  as far as New Zealand (fanilies of Malcolm Thomas and Richard Watkins)!!

The community also boasted a well eqipped military force, a nursing station, and a local 'resident capable of acupuncture and other seemingly miraculous cures.


Broken arms, legs, cuts, concussions - no problem, the community was always well prepared!


Sometimes 'royalty' would pass by in a rather splendid two-seated carriage


They were always very well dressed - the Queen was an expert taylor!


Handsome English immigrant playing the field!!


And when there was a marriage to celebrate - aboriginal Welsh to the left, immigrant English to the right!!


1940 World War II evacuees sent from London to live out the war in South Wales; one stray bomb created a crater on the mountain top and managed to break a few windows in Pembroke St.


       The most famous of the evacuees brought to Wales was Petula Clark :     

                  -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RED_7HNogDw  


Coed-Ely station in Thomastown - the 'Kozy Club' annual trip to the seaside at Porthcawl (Cwmlai Elementary School in the background).


c 1945  the Pembroke St 'mobile' choir celebrating the end of the War -  conductor Ernie Church (and thanks Mr Bugler!)


c. 1950 - two Pembroke St families on holiday in Weston-Super-Mare - the Hendys and Churchs


c. 1950 Pembroke St girls: Shirley Pring, Thelma and Lorna Gibbs (twins), Anne Watkins, Marilyn Church, Margaret Harris (front)


       c. 1952 Pembroke St women's 'bazooka' marching band


       c 1952 The usual gang of undesirables - Micky Ward,  Brian 'Gomer' Davies (3rd from left), Keith Hendy (centre), Kenny Jenkins (to the right of Keith), Bill Church (furthest right)


1968 - celebrating the return of his parents from Czechoslovakia after the Russian invasion of this country   


2016 Former Thomastown residents Brian and Anthea Davies self-congratulate after vanquishing the dreaded Caerphilly dragons!! 

           The omelette was reported tp be deliceous!!  


The Thomastown Gymnastics Club -  Thursday night at Cwmlai Elementary School was gymnastics and dance night (where you learned about girls and vice versa!!).  The gymnastics team would give displays as pre-game entertainment  at  local soccer games and other events.


                                   TONYREFAIL GRAMMAR SCHOOL


Tonyrefail Grammar School - one way to avoid having to work as a miner deep in the dark and dusty Earth would be  to become a geologist - enjoy travelling the world and only occasionaly be required to go undergroundl!!

-      More often there is a need to go well above ground - Ciorneva, Italian Alps!

-     And then there is the quiet of the desert - Gebel Zebara, Egypt!


Iris Pring - (top row 3rd from the right) first person in Thomastown to graduate from University - an historic event in Thomastown! Sister Shirley was also among the first to graduate from Nursing school.


TGS 1949 -  photo with Cliff Morgan in the 2nd row extreme left; Thomastown men of letters - Arthur Holman, Bill Church; Stan Cornish  (Wyndham Jones back row 2nd from the right)


TGS 1949 - centre right


TGS 1949 - centre


TGS 1949 - Centre left


TGS 1949 - left


TGS rugby team  c. 1950    Back row :- ?? , Louis Robling, Brian Lewis of Meyler St, Ken Francis, Malcolm Bodilly, Stan Cornish of Meyler St,  ?? , Arthur Holman of Pembroke St;  Middle row :- Headmaster Bowen-Jones,   ??,  Keith Berry, John Hunt, Phys. Ed. teacher Les Hayward (played rugby for Cardiff); front row :- Eddie 'Golf' Davies, ?doucette ?,  Glyn Williams, Gary Williams,  ??.


Brian Lewis - Welsh School  boy Interational 1954-55



1955 Wales versus Yorkshire - Welsh  team included Brian Lewis of Thomastown and Gary Williams of Tonyrefail.


Tonyrefail Grammar school athletics team c. 1950 - Thomastown members, Arthur Holman (top row furthest right), Brian Lewis (third row furthest left), Bill Church (first row 2nd left). The person holding the discus  in the front row is Wyndham Jones, to whom the TGS facebook owes a considerable debt for his many contributions to the development of this site. Top row - Brian Townley, ?, Billy Bridge, Malcolm Bodily, Arthut Holman; Upper Middle row - Brian Lewis,  Doug Firstbrook, Doug Robling, ?, John Hunt; Lower Middle row - Mr. Les Hayward, Ken Francis, Gary Williams, ?, Michael Griffiths, Gwyn Doman, John Evans (future noted sprinter), Headmaster Bowen-Jones; First row - Glyn Williams, Bill Church, Wyndhan Jones, Lynn Andrews, ?.


Tonyrefail Grammar School  rugby team c. 1952; Thomastown representatives:- Brian 'Lanky' Lewis (back row centre; was capped for Wales as a schoolboy); to the right of Brian -  Eric Hellings (his grandfather played for Wales), Bill Church (mostly played 'reserve'), Malcolm Thomas; and in front of Bill and Malcolm - Keith Berry; the photo also includes Mr Hayward, Mr Gribble, and Headmaster Bowen-Jones and notable team members (back row left) Gwyn Griffiths , John Evans, ?, Ken 'Cheesy' Francis, David Tomkins (back row extreme right); (centre row) Brian Lewis Gilfach,  John Hunt, Val Tambini, Gary Williams, Keith Berry, Eddie Stevens, and (front row) 'speedy' Glyn Williams, ?, Malcolm Bodilly, and ? Lewis Gilfach.



Tonyrefail Grammar School rugby team 1955 show casing  the school's two International School boys Brian Lewis and  Gary Williams. Also of note -  David Tomkins (next to Mr Gribble) who played rugby for the RAF, the Combined Forces and for London Welsh while teaching in Southhall, London. David is also an accomplished skier, but says however that he prefers Courchval over the 'old Roman road' - too steep!!!, and these days golf. Team also included  Eddie Stevens (2nd row left), Derek Manley, Malcolm Bodilly and Lynn Andrews (centre back row), Doug Robling (centre right), and Alan Andrews (2nd row right).


Tonyrefail Grammar School students in the early 1950's - Dennis Gibbs, Ken Francis, John Hunt, Gwyn Doman, Alan Noble, Louis Robling, Doug Firstbrook, Bill Church


Thomastown expatriates in Australia and New Zealand - the Andrews bothers Mel and Allan, Jeanette (Church) Andrews, Mair Owen, and Malcolm Thomas (New Zealand). Also Doug Firstbrook (Miskin) and Paddy  Firstbrook (Gilfach Goch)   Well known 'paper delivery' boy Malcom Thomas and his brothers Hadyn and David


Canadian expatriates - Brian 'Lanky' Lewis (left) and Bill Church (right); Brian was Director of Education for the Canadian North West Territories and Minister for Education.

                            

                                            SPORTS 


Thomastown - a very sporting community!


As for outdoors swimming in the summer  - why not just dam the River Ely?


The day we walked to Port Talbot over the Bwlch!


Thomastown Hitch-hikers Club:  Brian 'Lanky' Lewis, Bill Church, John Hunt, and Ken 'Cheesy' Francis hitch-hiking the Wye Valley.

                                                     Billy Bridge, Bill Church, and Brian Townley in Gay Paree!!;

                                                     Brian Townley and Bill Church at the Dutch - Belgian border


                          And of course - rugby !!!  

    Thomastown rugby team 1919 : - incudes Dr Bereton, the local doctor, and Tommy Rees and John Pring from Pembroke St

     Thomastown rugby team 1932 -  unbeaten season - captain Wyndham Lewis holding the ball         

           
Back Row:  T. Evans (Secretary), C. Callaghan, F. Webb, Dick Hellings, D.J. Davies (Treasurer), B.T. Bird (Chairman), A. Bailey (Trainer)
           Third Row:  F. Cook, T James, E. Harris, W.H.Jones, G.L. James, T. Davies, E. Chapman, T. Myatt

           Second Row:  J. Groves,  H.P. James, Wyndham Lewis (Captain), Wm. Griffiths, Esq., M.E. (President),  T. Griffiths, C. Lloyd, H. M. Lo
            Front Row:  W. Sheppard, Brinley Lent, A. Davies

    G.(Glan) James was  selected to play for  for  Wales  in  c. 1937  but the  game was  cancelled  and  as a result  he did  not  get his  cap ! !

       Ton Rugby Club 1958-59 :-  Captain Malcom Thomas of Heol Isaf, Ronny Rees of Pembroke St  (third from right first row) and Eddie Jenkins of Meyler St (sitting on grass right; terrific whistler!).

                      
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwCbG4I0QyA  - Oh, that Gareth Edwards: - commentator Cliff Morgan, Welsh International and alumnus of Tonyrefail Grammar school


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                           'THE ROCKS' - the outside world!

     
MAP of the area between Thomastown and Llanharan showing location of the "The Rocks"

'The Rocks' - "D'duw Cariad Yw"  -  the Welsh words "D'duw Cariad Yw" (God is love) are carved in the the sandstones. The rocks lie on the ancient hill-top road "Ffordd y Bryniau" linking Llantrisant to the Ogmore Valley and to the 12th  Century Cistercian Abbey in Margam - see Bowen's map (above).


View of the Vale of Glamorgan looking due south from "The Rocks"  - "The Rocks" marks an outcrop of cross-bedded Pennant Sandstone on the elevated rim of the synclinal South Wales coalfield. The outcrop overlook the Ewenni Fach brook and the hamlet of Llanharan, and the ancient Ffordd Y Bryniau road linking Llantrisant to the Ogmore Valley. "The Rocks" can be accessed from Thomastown via the 'Roman Road' linking Thomastown and Brynna/Llanharan, or by the road passing through Graig Fatho farm to its junction with the Ffordd Y Bryniau road. From this vantage point one could look down on the Vale of Glamorgan - who since the Norman Conquest has looked down for centuries upon everybody else!!


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http://www.capeli.org.uk/uploads/capel_tonyrefail.pdf  - very interesting site on the history of  the Churches and Chapels of the  Tonyrefail - Thomastown - Coedely region


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  The following is extracted from 'Tonyrefail: the story of a community', by Walter Jones, 1997, D.Brown and Sons, Ltd, Cowbridge, p. 90-93.  (Walter's wife Shirley lived in Thomastown as a girl.)


        

     The sinking of Coed Ely Colliery, some two miles to the south of the old  village, led to the formation of new villages which for many years were quite independent of the older community. The limited transport facilities at that time had led to a demand for new housing within easy walking distance of the new coal mine and coke works.

     Thomastown was the first of these new communities to be built between 1908-9. It was built on land owned by the Ynys y Plwm estate of Mr William Meyler Thomas J.P, which he had inherited from his aunt Mrs Margaret Cozens in May 1901. Her obituary appeared in the Western Mail for 25 May, 1901 and reveals the extent of the Estate and the circumstances leading to her nephew's inheritance:

    'The death of Mrs Cozens of Ynys y Plwm took place on May 22nd 1901. She was the wife of Collwyn Cozens who predeceased her by many years. She was the owner of most of the pretty valley of the Ely river from below Llantrisant to Tonyrefail, a distance of between five and six miles. Her husband was the owner of Fforch Nest, to the west of Penygraig which he sold to the Naval Colliery. She died childless but had absolute power of disposing of her landed estates, that power having been bequeathed on her by her husband. The deceased lady is a native of Haverfordwest'.

     Collwyn Cozens had inherited the land as a result of the marriage, in 1831, of his father the Reverend James Cozens of Tenby to Crisley the daughter of John Thomas of Ynys y Plwm. The family seem to have spent most of their time in Pembrokeshire especially after the death of Collwyn Cozens in 1880.

      Indeed in the census of 1891 it was her niece and nephew, Elizabeth and Edwin Thomas, who were residing at Ynys y Plwm. Their brother William Meyler Thomas seems at the time to have been with his aunt in Haverfordwest. He sold the mineral rights soon afterwards to the Welsh Navigation Coal Company and it was on his land at Tontraethwg that the village of Thomastown was built between 1908-9 . The village is, indeed, a memorial to the family as each of the streets is named after a family member: Meyler Street clearly after himself; Elizabeth and Francis Streets after his relatives.

     Whilst Pembroke and Haverford Streets were so named because of his and his ancestors' links with that county. His obituary of 6 November 1917 shows how the wealth he had accumulated led to a position of importance in Glamorgan, Welsh and indeed English agricultural affairs:

    'The late Mr W. Meyler Thomas, who died on Sunday at the age of 67, was a Pembrokeshire gentleman who years ago inherited the residence and estate known as Ynys y Plwm. This property is in the fertile Ely Valley and lately has become valuable because of the discovery of coal beneath it. It is all in the area taken by Messrs. David Davis and Sons Ltd.

     A pioneer member of the Glamorgan Chamber of Agriculture he as also delegate to the Central Chamber of Agriculture since 1906 and was a member of the Agricultural Council of Wales and the committee of The Royal Bath and West of England Show'.

     From the outset Thomastown was designed as an independent community. It had its own public house, the Ely Hotel (which opened on August 1st, 1912 and served free beer for the day), a post office, a chapel and ten shops for 120 houses. In Meyler Street there was a greengrocer's, a general grocer's, two sweet shops, a cobbler's, a haberdasher's and a fish and chip shop. Pembroke Street had a general store, a second-hand clothes shop and a police house.  Elizabeth Street soon had a new co-operative stores to replace an earlier Thomas & Evans Stores as well as the post office and hotel, whilst behind 'the Co-op' was a bakery. A Captain Payne ran the Ely Hotel and a Captain Webber the Bakery. The earliest form of entertainment was a 'Biorama' which was an early form of 'pictures' and was held in a tent on the site of the present club's car park. During the 1921 strike Mr Arthur Evans - 'Long Arthur' - built a cinema with the aid of the striking miners. Beneath the cinema was a billiards room. The silent films, which included such films as 'Charlie Chaplin and the Kid', shown at the cinema were accompanied by a number of talented local pianists amongst whom were Idris Evans of Garth Hall and Rhys Williams an accomplished member of the Pen Wen family. Jenny Williams, another member of the family, sang 'Song Cycles' during the intervals between the films. This leisure attraction which was known as the Kozy Club burnt down in 1925 and was rebuilt as a dance hall which was in turn taken over in 1930 by the present day club which is still registered as 'The Thomastown Kozy Club and Institute'.

      On the hill above Pembroke Street was the 'new' house, of the Agent of Coed Ely Colliery, built on the site of the old Tynycoed farmhouse. At the same time Pentwyn House was built on the lane leading to Gelli Seren farm. It was here that Mr Edwards the manager of the colliery lived. He travelled to work in a horse and trap and the children would often race each other to collect the penny or half penny he threw to them for opening the gate at the end of the lane. It was to Pentwyn House also that the children went on New Year's Day to collect their calennig of an apple and a penny.

      Cwmlai School was built just the other side of the Ely River to serve both Thomastown and the new communities of Nantmelin and Penygarreg.  Nantmelin and Tylcha Fach were built between 1908-10 by a Mr Ben Swindon and for a while were known as 'Swindon Houses'. Penygarreg followed soon afterwards and was occupied by 1911. This road was intended to be a shopping centre and all the houses were designed with large front windows and with access to the upstairs from the back kitchen, leaving the hallways as entrances to the shops. In the event, only one of these houses ever became a shop and the new hotel, the Imperial, built opposite the houses was never granted a licence. Instead for a number of years it served as the place of worship of the local church members and in its later days was used as a button factory before it was demolished and replaced by new housing in the late 1960s.

     Some 200 yards further along towards Tonyrefail a row of larger bay windowed houses named at first Tylcha Wen Crescent - later Terrace - was  built to house officials of the Coed Ely Colliery who moved down from the parent colliery at Ferndale. The local perception was that these were favoured employees who were often given the best jobs. One such job underground was that of cutting pwcins - caused by pressure lifting the ground under the rails. These had to be cut regularly and the task was considered quite a perk. Thus the nickname of the terrace for many years was Pwcins Terrace. With the building of these houses came the building of the road directly up to Tonyrefail which greatly improved communications in the area. Coed Ely village built opposite the Coke Works just above Garth Grabban corn mill was again built on land owned by Meyler Thomas. The streets are also named after his relations. The mill which gave its name to Garth Street had been powered by a leet running from a weir built across the River Ely where it was joined by the Nantmelin stream, but was only to continue working for a few years after the opening of the colliery and coke ovens.